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'Californication': Booze, boobs and a snooze

September 28, 2009 |  7:45 am


Hank Moody was asleep. On top of him, a naked woman.

And so the dance begins anew ...

“Californication” opened its third season in unsurprising form Sunday night: Hank (David Duchovny) in the middle of his favorite pastime, though not terribly enthused. “Hank? Hank!” said the lady. “Yeah, present,” said the novelist, coming to. He’d dozed off. She wasn’t thrilled.

Just about anywhere else on the TV dial, the lead-in would have widened the eyes. Here, though, it met mine with a bit of a yawn. And the scene pretty much fell in line with the rest of the episode: amusing at times, though a bit uninspired on the whole.

In the end, the same feeling that came over me at the start of last season returned: I was underwhelmed, but delighted to have my friend back. That’s kind of what Duchovny as Hank has become to us “Californication” fans: a guy we’ll always want to follow, because we don’t want to miss the epic moment that’s surely to arrive, again and again. Simply put, he’s more interesting than the rest of us. And I’m still surprised Duchovny didn’t get an Emmy nomination for his work last season.

That said, Sunday’s Season 3 opener just didn’t do much for me. Booze, boobs and a big fat dinner party? We’ve seen plenty of that already on this show. And Hank’s tender phone conversation with Karen (Natascha McElhone) at the end? Yep, another “Californication” fallback; when he isn’t in bed with someone else, Hank often ends his evening on the cellphone, charming either his ex or their teenage daughter, Becca (Madeleine Martin), the two most important women in his life.

There was also this one huge red flag for the snob writer in me: Hank and Charlie (Evan Handler) discussing a new book of Hank’s that “no one wants to publish,” due to a litany of offenses that Charlie quotes to his client (“it’s too long, it’s too self-indulgent, it’s too hateful, too misogynistic," the publishers say). At first I thought that perhaps they were discussing the tale of Lew Ashby, which was the literary storyline woven through last season. But then the cash-strapped Hank said that the “money from the Ashby book only went so far.”

So wait, a new book? The guy who spent most of the first two seasons with a huge case of writer’s block has now turned out not only the Lew Ashby bio, which we literally saw him complete at the typewriter last season, but another book as well? Exactly how much time has passed since the end of last season?

Please tell me if it’s just the writer in me, but I’ve always found those Hank-at-the-keys moments to be magical. In the few times that we’ve heard or read his literary voice, we’ve understood why a man like this is so successful. He’s imperfect but gifted in terms of the written word. And in this texting, social-networking society of ours that’s now limiting language to LOLs, smiley faces and tweets of 140 characters or less, that aspect of his character is not to be dismissed.

Granted, I can only imagine how hard it is to capture a supposedly brilliant author’s unique voice in the short amount of time that TV allows, but series creator Tom Kapinos and his writers have always met that challenge whenever we’ve been privy to Hank Moody’s writing. And for a guy who’s so driven and affected by literature and his work (or lack thereof), I feel cheated to not have been witness to whatever this new writing project of his was. I wanted another weed-and-Warren Zevon moment, apparently his ritual whenever his typing fingers finally make it to “THE END.” Those are the kinds of moments that impress me, the times when I feel confident in saying that this show is a whole lot more than the boobs and the booze. 

(OK, now I do feel like the snob writer.)

As for what I enjoyed about Sunday’s episode, Becca going off the sensible path and stealing Dad’s weed from inside his typewriter was an amusing character shade that I hope to see more of, and a couple of newly introduced characters show immediate potential: Peter Gallagher as the hilariously named Dean Koons (if you don’t get it, go to the bookstore), because, well, he’s Peter Gallagher and I see him and Duchovny as having a lot of potential playing off each other; and Diane Farr as Jill Robinson, a university teaching assistant who’s both brutally honest about her imperfect personal life and (at least for now) immune to Hank’s advances. “Don’t charm me,” she tells him at one point during the dinner party, and when she denies him again at the end of the night, it’s a breath of fresh air to see that Hank is actually not going to get laid. Even still, the chemistry between the two characters dripped off the screen, and whenever Farr was on screen, the scene popped.

That could lead to some good television ahead, as she is a teaching assistant at Dean Koons’ unnamed local university, and the path to Hank taking a teaching gig at the school was both paved by this episode’s storyline and teased by Showtime in the network’s marketing campaign for this third season; “Meet Professor Hank Moody” has been plastered across bus stops, billboards and bar coasters all around town in recent weeks. And so it seems, we’re headed back to the classroom.

See you there, next week.

-- Josh Gajewski

Photo: David Duchovny and Diane Farr. Credit: Showtime.